Julia Hailes MBE

Sustainability Pioneer


The Shocking thing about helium balloons (Nov16)



Filln’away – essentially means fill the balloons and chuck the whole gas canister away afterwards – as well as leaving balloon waste to wash up on the beach as litter……  


I love giving parties and try to make them quite spectacular too.  I’ve got a birthday tea party coming up and decided to buy some balloons.  In Urban Outfitters, I found some that looked great fun. They had coloured lights in them and it was recommended you filled them with helium.
My son, Connor, was with me and he had misgivings.  He said that having disposable mini lights was just the sort of thing that I wouldn’t like…  But I got carried away and bought them anyway.  It was a mistake.
When I asked at the counter how I might fill them with helium, they said that there was a party shop down the road that sold the filling equipment and failing that they had a filling service for the day of the party.  That wouldn’t work for me in rural Dorset, so I went to investigate buying the gas.
That’s when I got a shock.  They showed me the box containing the gas gizmo and it was huge – about the size of a beanbag.  The girl explained that it had enough gas to fill 50 balloons – and then you simply chucked it away.   It was disposable..  I couldn’t believe it.  How wasteful is that?
Of course, I didn’t buy it.  I didn’t even buy the balloon blow up pump, deciding that we’d simply blow them up ourselves.
This prompted me to do a bit of research about helium.  I’ve discovered that although it’s quite abundant, there’s a limit to how much is available to us – and once it’s released into the atmosphere, you can never get it back. It’s taken 4.7 billion years to accumulate our helium reserves, and it looks like we will have used what we have by the middle of this century. Apart from balloons, helium is used for a whole range of other things.  Here’s Treehugger’s perspective from 2013:
“These helium party balloons surely rank among the most frivolous products in existence. The prospect of labs around the world disbanding crucial medical and scientific research to make room for crinkly novelty items is stunning in its absurdity.”
Looking round the party shop with my eco-hat on was a gruesome experience.  Pretty well everything was disposable and pointless.  I’ve always protested about paper napkins and straws.  Now I have a whole lot more party ephemera to add to my list.  Henceforth, I’m going to stick to decorating with fruit, pumpkins, candles, bunting, tinsel, baubles and ornaments – and for the next party, I’ll use the same stuff again.


I won’t be a party pooper but there will be a lot less disposable poppers at my festive celebrations – and I’ll never buy helium balloons again.
Balloons Blow try to educate people about the destructive effects of released balloons

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